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Wondering What It’s Like to Work with Us?

If you’ve been reading our stuff for a while, you know we typically share our ideas and experiences to help brand managers and marketers leap over the hurdles their brands run into. Business challenges like figuring out which products to launch or finessing relationships with retailers or navigating consumers’ fickle buying habits.

So I wanted to pull back the curtain a bit and write about how brand leaders come to work with us, and how we help them blow up their brands in all the best ways.

Why Brand Leaders Engage Us

Brand managers, CMOs, and private equity investors typically reach out to us when they’re in one of two broad scenarios:

One, something isn’t working. Market share is growing slowly or not at all. Profits are stagnant. Category managers are losing interest in the brand and its products. A once powerful connection with the brand’s audience has softened, and a potential new audience is hard to identify. Packaging and brand identity no longer stand out in a competitive marketplace. The brand is floundering and leadership needs outside expertise to right the ship.

Or two, the brand is in solid shape, performance wise. But the team is under-resourced and can’t devote people’s power to taking it to the next level. It’s more of a bandwidth issue, not so much that the brand is stuck. Perhaps the brand is new to the company’s portfolio and leaders aren’t yet ready to build out the team. They need work from us that’s as good or better than what they could produce internally.

While we’re really good at turning around sluggish brands (see Russell Stover and Essentia), we excel when we plug in as an expert resource for the team. That’s because we’re free to bring big ideas, take risks that are hard to do internally, and stand in the trenches to advocate for a bold vision for the brand. Our position as an outside partner means we’re not intimidated by pitching breakthrough ideas or limited by what’s always been done.

What You Can Expect from Us

Our work with food, beverage, and wellness brands typically falls under two umbrellas: our 360° Brand Development process (i.e., the whole kit ‘n’ kaboodle) and Brand Strategy & Positioning (when the client has an internal team capable of executing the strategy).

Some brand managers, whatever our engagement, prefer us to play the “agency” role, standing a bit apart from the team, working independently, and iterating in back-and-forth fashion. We skillfully support the client’s expertise and help them build solutions that feel “aha” — grown organically out of their strategy.

Others invite a more collaborative partnership with lots of dialog and personal connectivity. These managers want to blend new-school and old-school marketing thinking; they expect to roll up their sleeves and be part of the behind-the-curtain work.

After decades of doing this work, we’re super comfortable with both of these roles. We can shape-shift to assume whatever form works best for the project. Clients tell us this flexibility is one of our assets, along with a few other strengths:

We See Into Your Blind Spots

It’s maybe the biggest argument in favor of working with us: We see what you don’t. Institutional bias is real. It keeps you from imagining a wider consumer base beyond the fans who’ve been with your brand from the beginning. It hamstrings your innovation process because you can’t get past your personal preferences. When you’re stuck in we’ve-always-done-it-this-way mode, bold moves feel too risky, even when they’re the right ones.

We Help You Get Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

Armed with that outsider point of view, we can push boundaries and advocate for positioning or audiences or retail channels that might feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar to the internal team. We’re not afraid of the internal politics and turf battles. Our business partners tell us we help them imagine their business in ways they could never have foreseen. We overcome doubt and deliver results — results that make our clients look brilliant. And in the highly unlikely event that we fall short of the goal, we absorb the punches.

We Leverage Our Years of Experience

David and I have been at this for a couple of decades now. As a young creative, David helped build one of the most iconic, pervasive brands in the world, Starbucks, and he’s gone on to advise CMOs and leaders of many other influential food and beverage brands. Since my early career position working with Jane Goodall, I’ve been on a mission to change the world. Those three things — experience, impact, and passion — are unique to us. Every client engagement, every breakthrough, every win adds to our expertise. And we’ve built a team of strategists and creative pros with CPG marketing chops that bring their own dedication and skills to the work.

We Find New Consumers to Fall in Love with Your Brand

All that experience helping brands like Starbucks and REI and High Key find breakthrough success adds up to what I call David’s superpower. It’s his freaky ability to translate raw consumer data into a deep understanding of the consumer and consumer-to-be. Most data takes a historic look at who’s bought your product, where, and why. David’s adept at mining that info for insight into who your future audience is and how your brand fits into their lives. Growth comes not from selling more product to your existing fan base, but from finding all those people out there just waiting to fall in love with your brand.

We Deliver Results, Period

This is what it’s all about, right?

As a brand manager, you’re charged with growing the business. It’s a singular goal with a lot of moving parts: messaging, channel strategy, audience development, product innovation. Time and again, clients tell us, “You told us what would happen and you delivered exactly what you promised. Working with you transformed our culture and impacted my career.”

Maybe they had questions or fears along the way, but they trusted the process. Working with us is like physical therapy: You relearn how to do things you thought you knew how to do.We’re out to build what we call Beloved & Dominant Brands. Brands with devoted followers, with bold aims to change the world, with the power to out-compete rivals. If that aligns with your vision for your brand, I invite you to get in touch.

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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Your Company’s Acquired a Brand. Now what?

Your organization’s portfolio of brands has just grown. And the new brand is about to land in your lap. Depending on your role, you might feel exhilaration … or panic.

If you’re with an equity company and about to become the manager of this new brand, you’re thinking: How fast can I move to scale this business?

If you’re a private investor taking over a young or underperforming brand, you’re thinking: How do I quickly determine what’s working so I can fix everything else?

If you’re a CMO at a multinational, you’re thinking: How can I make bold moves to make my mark on this brand?

If you’re a manager at a company that owns a suite of brands, you’re thinking: Great. Now what?

What You Know, What You Don’t Know

As you work to onboard the brand as quickly as possible, you’ll need to figure out a bunch of things:

People — the culture of the team you’re inheriting and how they sync with your org chart

Products — the lineup of products, whether it overlaps with other brands under the corporate umbrella, and how the mix needs to pivot to avoid cannibalizing your other business

Processes — where and how the products are manufactured and distributed, and how those systems play with existing operations

Opportunity —the potential audience for the brand, and the ways you can leverage existing retail channels to bring the new brand into new markets

Visual expression — how the brand’s packaging and external presence should be updated, either to fit within your family or to pursue new audiences

The due diligence process that preceded the acquisition likely answered this preliminary information. You’ll have access to bottom-line reports on the brand’s scalability and growth opportunity, and operational details about procurement and distribution.

In our work with brand leaders and investor groups, we’ve found that the information most relevant to marketers is often not a part of due diligence. The business, finance, and ops people driving the deal are less concerned with the “softer” discipline of marketing the brand to a real audience of real people. In fact, you might have surprisingly little relevant marketing info: probably some Amazon figures and shopper or sales data of some sort. But that data doesn’t look at the upside; it looks at history.

Tackle These Marketing Priorities First

If you’re the brand manager or CMO charged with shepherding this new brand, you must move quickly to gain the insight you need. These should be your top intelligence-gathering priorities:

Category Audit

Our work with food, beverage, and wellness brands typically involves a category traction audit, which answers several pressing questions, including who owns the market currently, where the market (channel) is, and who are the players you can take share from. The category audit frames your brand within the aisle you compete in.

Competitive Audit

This is our deeper dive into your brand’s world, probably the most valuable thing you can do for this new business. The name is a misnomer; it’s not about your direct competitors but rather about all the things competing for the shopper’s dollar. Suppose you’re an organic post-workout snack bar, for example. In that case, you’re not just competing with other nutrition bars … you’re competing with apparel and equipment brands and wellness products; basically, the entire pot of money the consumer spends on fitness and wellness. The competitive audit will reveal any disconnect between what you’ve been told about the brand and its cold, hard reality.

Audience Analysis

With the acquisition, you probably gained a high-level introduction to the brand’s core audience. But to grow share, you need to understand how these loyalists compare to the category and to the channel. Any disconnects will point you to the future audience.

Almost every time we advise a client, we encounter institutional bias within the brand team about who their target audience is. Marketers tend to assume that the larger universe of potential buyers looks exactly like that group of a couple hundred hardcore, longtime fans of the brand. You might have been told that the new brand’s audience is young women with a quirky sense of style; analysis might show that the core is actually senior citizens, and they’re using the products in a completely different way than expected. To build a bigger audience, you have to understand who your current users really are.

The Brand Manager’s To-Do List for an Acquisition

As they say, the only way to eat an elephant is bite by bite. So let’s outline the must-dos for several milestones in your leadership of the brand:

What’s Task One on Day One?

Your first priority is people, and there are three components:

1.Meet with the people who work on the brand you’re acquiring. Even though you don’t yet have firm plans for the business, be open, honest, and reassuring.

2. Engage with the stakeholders to identify and agree upon what success for this brand will look like.

3. Find a neutral third party to vet ideas and keep things honest.

What Are the Year One Priorities?

You’ll be focused on building. Use the full suite of consumer data tools at your disposal to build clarity and confidence that the prospective new audience you’ve identified is attainable. Create new design and marketing systems, put them in place, and dig into testing and learning. And get your sales team so jacked about the opportunity that they’re getting you in new doors.

What Does Year Three Look Like?

By Year 3, you should be seeing the truckloads of cash pull up to show that you’re right. If you don’t, you did something wrong — or, more likely, you didn’t do the right things. You didn’t invest in innovation, didn’t align the team with the new vision, didn’t follow the plan, didn’t do the deep brand strategy work. Instead, you just put a new face on the brand and thought that would do the trick.

Two Final Watchouts

We’ve coached plenty of marketing leaders and investors on how to steward a newly acquired brand, and we’ve seen two pain points you need to watch out for.

The first is communication. The people on both sides of an acquisition will be freaked out no matter what. The team associated with the business you’re absorbing may be REALLY devoted to the brand and feel like they’re lending their skills and dedication to the larger movement. Your existing team may worry about new colleagues, added work, losing their job because of redundancy. If you don’t communicate openly and frequently, the lack of information allows people to imagine the worst or assume the best, and both of these are probably wrong. Lack of communication about your intentions for the business creates fear and consternation, which translates to an exodus.

The second is design. Managers taking on a new brand almost universally want to quickly make their mark by jumping straight to rebranding and packaging. And that’s the biggest risk because it stands to wreck the brand if you don’t have the strategic foundation in place first.CMOs and investors in food, beverage, and wellness brands trust our team to guide them along the acquisition path and grow their business to unimagined heights. If a new brand is about to land on your plate, let’s get in touch now about what you need.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Attracting New Customers Doesn’t Mean Losing Longtime Fans

“Don’t lose our power users!” It’s the No. 1 concern we hear from brand executives who come to us for help building their business.

Here’s the problem, though: Your power users, your longtime fans, your core customers — they’re a fixed universe. Keeping them, and only them, happy is not the ticket to growth and long-term impact.

To thrive, food, beverage, and wellness brands need to constantly convert new believers. There’s a whole cohort of fans-in-waiting out there, ready to fall in love with your brand’s promise and products. You just haven’t yet sent them roses.

To grow your brand’s audience, you need to first get over your team’s institutional fear of failure, and then understand where and how to find new consumers.

Fear of Leaving Fans Behind

Brand leaders are charged with growth. That’s a given. But it’s a mistake to assume that growth can come from selling more stuff to a finite number of people. If your brand is duking it out on price, or can’t get invited on shelf because your products are too similar to what’s already there, then your target audience, no matter how loyal they are, may be in the way. Growth won’t come from your 250 die-hard fans spending 5 cents more; it comes from getting 250,000 more people to think the same way.

Unfortunately, most consumer products companies have a short-term financial mindset; data is judged in quarterly or semi-annual segments, and no marketer wants to be the person who’s responsible for losing share. A false sense of safety emerges from focusing on the core fan base; if you can keep them happy, that feels like a win.

The census of power users is often not big enough to matter, but brand leaders are so freaked out about losing them that they often don’t see beyond them. Growth means adding new consumers to the fold, and in appealing to those new people you risk leaving your early adopters behind.

Global brands with massive audiences are more adept at weathering these audience shifts. For mid-cap brands, potentially losing a few points in share in exchange for larger long-term expansion feels chancy.

Let me reassure you that building an audience is not a zero-sum game. You don’t lose an old customer for every new one you add.

There’s another fear at play here: Leaders and teams are fans of their brands and naturally think their audience mirrors their own preferences and behaviors. New audiences may scare marketers because they’re unfamiliar. Because they’re not exactly like you, you need to figure out who they are, what they respond to, and how to communicate with them.

Recognize, too, that there’s a natural evolution in a brand’s audience. Consumers mature out of brands, develop new need states, and live in a changing world. They expect brands to evolve alongside them. Don’t change for change’s sake; change for growth and relevancy.

Where Are Those New Customers?

Consumer preferences and behaviors are going through massive changes because of the fear of recession. For most people, their perception of the economy is more driven by the media and bad news than by lived experience. In short, consumer behavior doesn’t match consumer sentiment.

People are willing to pay more for products they like, open to trying something more expensive, and curious about sampling other brands. They’re looking for products that fit and reflect their values. So it’s a good time to capture new folks, especially since everything points to continued strong consumer spending despite downer economic news.

So how do you look for these willing-to-try-ers? How can you find a large group of people who will evolve into die-hard fans?

We’re especially skilled at helping brand leaders reimagine market boundaries, reinvent categories, and rethink their audience. This net new audience feels like a foreign concept when you’ve been focused on a core group for so long. It’s all about identifying a larger addressable market of people who will similarly be attracted to your brand’s promise.

Business schools teach the strategy of narrowing your addressable market; our approach to audience development goes in the opposite direction. We’ll start with that core audience and their needs and characteristics, then look at the broader category and draw threads that connect them to understand that there’s a huge audience of prospects. It’s not that you’re going to market to ALL of them, but if you get into the right channels and communicate your brand’s values, those people will pay attention to what you’re doing, and you’ll win over a good chunk of them.

Use Data + A Whole Lot of Insight

This model of building a group of net new consumers relies on data, sure. However, data is an artifact, historical by nature. It can tell you that a transaction occurred, not why it happened. It provides a road map of sorts, but it won’t point in a specific direction.

Audience development takes creativity and chutzpah, and an understanding of human behavior that data can’t collect. To borrow an example from streaming TV: Netflix has all the data in the world and they’ve sliced and diced it to create shows for all these segments. While AppleTV doesn’t yet have the viewership of Netflix, they’re great at making series nobody else would make because they can see beyond what the data says consumers would watch.

As a marketer, innovator, or brand manager, you’re will have to rely on experience and insight to expand your universe of customers. We often talk with clients about finding the white space — the place of real opportunity, where your competitors aren’t playing. Find where your brand’s superpowers overlap with consumers’ needs and wants. Project your core group’s characteristics onto a larger universe. You might appeal to yoga moms, but wouldn’t on-the-go outdoor enthusiasts love your products, too?That empty void looks scary, but it’s full of potential. It’s the only way you get to something (or someone) new. We’ve helped a bunch of brands navigate that white space and find the consumers they never could have imagined. So let’s talk about who you should be talking to.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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What Looks Risky Might Actually Be Really Smart

On Black Friday of 2011, Patagonia famously placed a full-page ad in The New York Times with the headline, “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” Below the fold, copy explained the company’s Common Threads Initiative, which emphasizes reduction, repair, reuse, and recycling of materials in its supply chain and manufacturing.

In one of my MBA classes recently, we discussed a case study of this campaign. And most of my classmates, all business leaders, agreed that the ad was really risky. Why would a company urge customers NOT to buy its products?

My perspective, though, was that it wasn’t risky at all. The anti-consumption message was totally on brand for Patagonia. And it would immediately resonate with their target audience — like-minded outdoor enthusiasts with a passion for saving the planet. Even more, it was a manifestation of the brand’s commitment that its products would be durable.

Patagonia’s customers would certainly not buy THAT jacket … but down the road, when they really, truly did need a jacket, they’d buy it from Patagonia.

Managing ‘Risky’ Marketing Based on Strategy

When it’s pinned to strategy, what looks risky isn’t risky at all. It might be ballsy or provocative or against the grain. But if a position or campaign fully supports the brand’s foundation — the promises it makes and the way it keeps them — it’s virtually assured to resonate with its fan base. And, in the swirl of attention that comes with something unexpected or controversial, it’ll likely pick up a new cohort of fans, too.

Patagonia’s environmental stance was nothing new in 2011. In the company’s early days, it felt more like outdoor enthusiasm with a sprinkling of environmental on top. But saving the planet became the brand’s North Star, and founder Yvon Chouinard built the business around it. Once they committed to being environmental stewards, it informed everything: what products they’d make, how they’d be made, out of what materials, and by whom. Patagonia built a “religion of dirtbags” — not just people who like to hike, but who are outdoors because of their deep commitment to the natural world.

It’s easy to love Patagonia these days because of their recent announcement that it would transfer 100% of voting stock to the Patagonia Purpose Trust and 100% of the nonvoting stock would go to the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis and defending nature. The news made headlines and generated a certain amount of “what do they think they’re doing” head-scratching among diehard capitalists. They’re giving away a $3 billion business?!?

But again: Totally on brand. Chouinard’s letter about the ownership transfer said, “Instead of ‘going public,’ you could say we’re ‘going purpose.’” Not at all a risk for a company built on Chouinard’s passion to develop mountain-climbing equipment that didn’t damage the rock he was climbing on.

If it feels like Patagonia has a history of going against the grain, it’s because bold positioning can capture the public’s attention repeatedly, over the long term. As a tiny regional startup in the ’70s, Ben & Jerry’s anchored their brand on a commitment to social and earth justice, using flavor innovation and product naming as opportunities to educate and inspire change. I love that the brand is playful and serious at the same time; the consumer gets to participate in the messaging and the mission. You can buy something like a classically fun Cherry Garcia along with something more overtly activist like Change is Brewing — a tasty coffee and marshmallow ice cream wrapped up in a message about voting rights, advocacy, and education. These days, especially, pegging a product to a political hot button would make any marketer squirm. For Ben & Jerry’s it makes sense because it’s so consistent with their values.

Strategy-based risk taking isn’t just for brands that have always zigged instead of zagging. Look at Danone, the multinational food behemoth. The company has pledged to secure B-Corp status across all their business units worldwide by 2025. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “B-Corp is ‘just’ a marketing strategy” or that it’s only for small- and mid-sized brands. This position would be risky — it’s a massive investment in dollars and resources — were it not for Danone’s vision of “One Planet One Health.”

Danone’s move flips the narrative that multinationals are destroying the planet, that it’s impossible to be profitable and do good. They get to be the leaders here and now all the other mega-companies have to play catchup. They’re the new case study for how an organization of that size can change the world for the better.

Working Without a Net is Risky

Every bloody marketer wants a buzzworthy/memorable/viral campaign. They want to direct a marketing effort that explodes sales and builds a radical reputation for the brand. These are career-making projects.

Strategy — not a visionary marketer or killer creative — drives success. Strategy as a discipline frees the marketing team up to be brilliant and ballsy because when you can see the strategy behind a wild idea, the wild idea isn’t scary. It’s easy to imagine that everyone inside Patagonia (except perhaps the finance people) looked at the “Don’t Buy This Jacket” headline and said, “heck-to-the-yes!” And consumers were more than happy to give their money and loyalty to the brand because they believed in what it stood for.

Throwing spaghetti against the wall is risky. Challenging the status quo when you haven’t done your homework is risky. Bold moves grounded in strategy are not.

When you’re doing something outlandish, you won’t know how brilliant it was for another two years; you might experience the initial cultural or media hype, but there’s a long tail to sales results. So as you’re evaluating a direction that pushes boundaries, ask your team: “What do we need to do so that when we’re sitting here two years from now, we’ll agree that this was a brilliant move?”

Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia show that a strategic commitment to being what looks like an outlier can lead to longevity. Danone demonstrates that risk can show up differently in different organizations. They look risky because it’s not status quo or just a different shade of mauve. Either way lays an easy path for the brand and consumer to travel together.

Brands that disrupt and get the lion’s share of the market set themselves up with a long runway to achieve a goal that scares the crap out of them, and then figure out ways to make it happen. The strategy should be big and gnarly enough that it takes time to execute — that’s the runway. Without a longer view of the initiative’s performance, you’ll sit around reading web analytics and other short-term data.

We’re especially good at helping brands find ways to go big with confidence because they’re so secure in the promises they make. The beauty of brand strategy is that it gives you a sandbox you can play in. As we say all the time to our clients: Stake a claim, be brave, and wait for the world to catch on to the big idea. Let’s do this.

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

Connect with Diana
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The Formula for Taking DTC Brands to Brick-and-Mortar Retail

You’ve got a killer product, a packaging system that looks fantastic on social media, a cohort of fans who flock to your site and gobble up every new flavor you drop, and a pile of data on those customers. You’ve got a thriving direct-to-consumer (DTC) brand. Good on you!

DTC is a great proving ground for start-up brands. But the costs associated with delivering a top-shelf consumer experience are skyrocketing: shipping costs, marketing expenses (social media, influencers, retargeting), and raw materials. And while we don’t think the channel’s going away in the near term, we believe it’s time for brands to shift their focus from being a darling to a few (we call this Dominant by Default in the life cycle of a brand) and move to the bigger, real-er world of in-store retail where billion dollar brands are made, and the fakers die.

We are advising the DTC brands we work with, “Get thee to retail.”

How Does DTC Success Translate to IRL Retail?

The short answer is, what you think you know about your customers is not gonna get you there.

Not all DTC 1-to-1 marketing data translates into bankable audience insights. We have seen it lead smart teams into complicated channel transitions because they’ve been deceived by past success —

1) They thought they had a brand, when in reality they had a product lineup.

2) They thought they knew their audience, but really they projected their own wants and desires into an audience profile.

Products don’t matter as much as promises. And groupthink and cognitive bias are brand killers.

Reaching consumers is so much easier via DTC and ecommerce channels than through brick-and-mortar because you’re fully in control. You tell your story through artfully curated social media photos, you pay to attract visitors to your site, you entice them with long-form content about how great your products are. Then, when they buy, you overspend on a sexy unboxing experience and free shipping, hoping that the lifetime value of this handful of die-hard fans will become your ticket to the promised land of preference.

But (or and) even though this channel has boasted 10 years of strong growth, at the peak of the pandemic DTC was still 84% below total retail sales. And it’s been steadily declining since we have been allowed to go out again.

If you want to go big, it’ll take more than your customer data to get you there. Every leader and marketer working on DTC brands has access to their own loyal fan base’s input, preferences, and shopping behavior. But just like all syndicated and primary research, this data can only look backward.

Plus, your current fan base is too insular. Consumers think they have an outsize influence on other people’s buying habits because they’re living in an echo chamber – and the brands that listen to them are living in the same echo chamber. You’re missing millions of people who could love you in the future because you’re focused on the thousands of people who love you now.

So how do you translate this tiny little star into a galaxy of customers?

The Formula for Taking a DTC Brand to Retail

There’s a formula for turning DTC traction and insights into a strategy to reach velocity on shelf:

Audience + channel strategy + positioning, with packaging as the icing on the cake.

(How do we know this works? We guided HighKey from a DTC startup with tons of potential to explosive retail sales in just 6 months.)

So let’s break this formula down.


When you start in the DTC channel, you’ll know deeply who your audience is. In fact, it’s a valid reason to launch a brand this way: not to make money, but to gather consumer intel.

But — and this is a big but — online consumer data gives brand leaders false confidence. Why? Because you’re paying money to get people to your site, narrowing your audience by persona, and communicating highly specifically to them. Many leadership teams and marketers think that the online buying audience will scale. Just because a hard-core workout type buys protein powder on Amazon, that business isn’t scalable beyond that microgroup.

Three things will help you get beyond your current fan base:

1) additional data (SPINS, IRI, Numerator) that will help you understand who to target in the retail environment

2) an experienced navigator who can interpret that data to help you find net new consumers (that’d be us)

3) a solid brand strategy that will align your mission, audience, and product lineup.

Channel Strategy

It’s not just a matter of where you sell; it’s about the order in which you proceed into different outlets. Ultimately, universal acceptance requires that your brand be available in all kinds of channels, but the order in which you move is important. Success in DTC will have left clues about which sequence of retailer growth makes the most sense for your brand.

Audiences expect certain types of brands in certain stores. If you start out in dollar stores, you can’t then go sell at boutique or specialty retail. Your reputation as a low-cost offering will precede you, and you can’t then up your price and target audience. If you get discovered at Costco, it’s hard to swim the other way.

You may not be a mass-market brand, and that’s OK. An essential part of brand strategy is defining who you are not for. But if you aim to reach a bigger and bigger audience, best to start at the small end of the funnel. When we built a channel strategy for our client Essentia, we led them carefully from specialty food retail into big-box chains. Consumers are delighted to find Essentia at Walmart because they’ve already bought it at Whole Foods.


Positioning is an extension of your strategic foundation. It’s the act of saying, “Here’s our value proposition, our reason for being, and what we make.” Let’s agree that your success in DTC means that you have considered and are using brand positioning.

Once you define and deeply understand your audience, you build different personas. For Essentia, we broadly defined the brand’s audience as “Overachievers” and then created personas around different types of overachievers: athletes, people who do physical work, musicians, etc.

Positioning involves making tough decisions that go beyond conventional messaging. Who do you want to reach, and how do you want to reach them? The transition from DTC to retail is an ideal time to re-energize brand positioning as part of a deeper strategy to reach a wider audience in pursuit of growth.


How you look on shelf is the icing on the cake, the inevitable visual outcome of the world you’ve built around the brand. If there’s any hesitation or conflict about the package design, you’ve missed something.

What Do Retailers Need from You?

No doubt, success in DTC will open some doors for your brand. Retail category managers probably know who you are. But they need more than a few months of Amazon or proprietary sales data.

They want to know that you have real audience insight — not just for your own products, but for how their shoppers will adopt your brand. And not just for your niche online buyers but for a larger universe of brick-and-mortar shoppers.

They’re also looking to see that you have a long term game. And you’ll need to convince them that you know the category well and that you’ll invest in their channel – their job is at stake here, too.

Taking an online darling into retail stores requires a hell of a lot more than a cool design, a few diehard buyers, and some swagger. We’ve done this before, with great success. So, if you’re ready to make a power move, let’s talk about how we can help you.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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The Art & Science of Killer Brand Taglines

For a food or beverage brand, a tagline has the power to capture consumers’ attention in a fractured, fast-moving world. A killer tagline is also incredibly difficult to come up with — especially if you’re trying to bolt a magic phrase onto an existing (or nonexistent) brand strategy. 

We think of a great tagline as a Haiku that captures your brand’s essence and calls deeply to your present and future fan base. 

Our latest white paper reveals our process for developing a tagline and guidance on when and how to use it across your brand’s communication platforms. 

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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What’s the Problem: Your Brand Strategy or Your Marketing Tactics?

Your latest campaign isn’t driving the velocity you expected. Instead of growing your sales, the new flavor you’ve introduced is cannibalizing your legacy product. Your leading retail outlet is preparing to launch a private label version of your offering.

If your food or beverage brand is facing headwinds, do you know if the problem is your marketing tactics? Or your brand strategy?

To find a fix, you need to understand the cause.

Identifying Tactical Problems & Fixes

If your sales and marketing teams are throwing a bunch of “stuff” against the wall to see what sticks, it can be difficult to isolate what’s working and what’s not.

Let’s look at some common problems that arise from sales and marketing tactical misfires:

  • Lack of awareness — you struggle to reach beyond your core audience of longtime fans; while they’re loyal buyers, they aren’t going to grow your bottom line.
  • Emphasis on product attributes — your messaging leads with features and benefits, not who, what, and why you exist. You’re on your way to becoming a commodity if you don’t retool your consumer communication.
  • Product cannibalization — your new flavors, sizes, or packs are eating away at your strongest offerings. When you emphasize attributes, not mission, you’re likely to grab consumers’ attention only with something shiny and new.
  • Placement and pricing friction — your products only move when on deal. Again, if your marketing doesn’t shout your brand’s mission from the rooftops, the consumer thinks, “well, this is a cheap option this week” instead of, “I need this brand in my life.”

To address a lack of consumer awareness, you might start with research (a competitive audit, category audit, and audience analysis) and then evaluate and refine your messaging based upon those insights.

If a marketing review reveals that your messaging is overly focused on your products’ attributes (Low carb! Now in vanilla!), then you need to retool your communication to explain your features and benefits through the lens of the brand. Let the brand’s WHY lead the dialog.

When you have a product cannibalization problem, the tactical fix is pretty straightforward: Develop the discipline to say no. Don’t make more varieties just because you can. Use consumer research, flavor trends, and retailer insights to anticipate consumer demands beyond just a copycat line extension.

Finally, if you’re facing pressure on pricing and placement, then leverage your consumer insights to help your retail partners understand that your audience is their audience. Knowing who your consumer is and how the brand fits into their lives will change the conversation about placement and channel strategy.

Brand Strategy Problems & Solutions

While product-specific data might reveal issues with your sales and marketing tactics, broader insights related to your consumer base and your performance against your competitive set are flashing red lights that you have a brand strategy problem.

We’ll dig into these warning signs in a couple of different business categories, and look at some potential strategic fixes.


Key indicators:

  • Brand erosion (loss of brand relevance)
  • Loss of key, long-time loyalist consumers
  • Lack of new audience cohorts
  • Misunderstanding among your internal team of what matters to your consumers

Strategic fixes:

In short, there’s a disconnect between your brand and your customers, one that goes both ways. Your team doesn’t understand who they are (or who they could be) or what they need. They, in turn, don’t get (or have forgotten) what you stand for.

Chances are, your company is sleeping on consumer data, ignoring it, discounting it, or thinking the brand is immune to changing consumer preferences. So research is the place to start fixing an audience strategy problem.

First, you need to look backward to understand the audience you have and how you got them, looking at SPINS data, syndicated research, or a Usage and Attitude Study.

Second, you need to look forward to identify an untapped group that doesn’t yet know they need your brand in their world. Decide who you want to reach out to, who you have a right to talk to, who you want to invite into the group — and then find ways to create linkage to them.

Remember: Your brand doesn’t have to be for everyone. If you’re an undifferentiated brand, you need millions of people to care. If you’re a brand with a purpose, you need a focused group of fans, both current and future, to care.

Always, your capital-B Brand — the promise you make and the way you keep it — drives decisions about who you’re inviting into the tribe. Defining a new audience should not change why you exist; why you exist should illuminate the new audience.


Key indicators:

  • You have unhappy retail customers
  • Low velocity means category managers are days away from dropping your brand
  • Your business is not solving your retailer partners’ main problems
  • New competition is taking significant market share
  • You compete on price rather than value
  • You have low profit margins
  • You’re seeing stagnant ACV (Annual Case Volume) in key accounts

Strategic fixes:

Your salespeople are charismatic folks who could sell water to a drowning person. But they need more than personality; they need tools and language to explain why your brand exists and how it fits into the retailer’s universe. Just as you work to win your consumer’s affection, you need to woo your retail partners.

This retail relationship-building effort involves knowing your existing audience and working to expand it. (See above.) Retailers want to see that you’re constantly driving shoppers to their shelves to find your products: More fans for you equals more business for them. Emphasize, too, your brand’s mission and its power to attract devoted fans who’ll seek you out and pay a premium.

Armed with data and brand strategy, your sales team can build partnerships with retailers based on the goal of shared success. When you work as equals, you’ll face less price pressure, threat of discontinuation, or dictation of shelf placement.


Key indicators:

  • Competitors’ products or services are no different from yours
  • Your product offering is outdated and no longer desirable
  • You’re behind in understanding new industry standards, consumer preferences, and competitive moves

Strategic fixes:

Throwing new products on retail shelves simply in response to trends or competitive moves is a recipe for becoming a commodity — because every other brand can make those same products. Pumpkin spice is not a brand strategy, it’s an opportunistic product play that may get you a spike in November but is not sustainable.

When you anchor R&D to your brand strategy, you’ll make things that only you can make. Things that are so attuned to your fan base’s needs that they can’t say no.

Consider the promise your brand makes and and how you keep it: What items in your current lineup deliver on that promise? Are there outages or opportunities that you’re not serving? Where do you have permission from your audience to introduce something new? That’s the target area for innovation.


Key indicators:

  • You’ve lost track of (or never identified) your brand’s mission: why it exists beyond just making a product
  • You have difficulty finding and keeping talent
  • Your product offering doesn’t match its promise

Strategic fixes:

Really, there’s only one thing to do if the brand does not stand on a strong, defensible mission: Go to Chapter 1 of our book Beloved & Dominant Brands and do all the homework.

Without a mission, you shouldn’t be innovating. Without a mission, you’re selling to the masses instead of singing with the choir. Your competitive advantage isn’t your product features and attributes, it’s the flag you’ve planted in the sand.

Without a brand strategy built on a singular mission, the savviest marketing plan and the most persuasive sales team won’t move the needle.If your brand is struggling with strategy, that’s our superpower. Let’s talk about what you need.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Good Creative Lasts a Moment. Great Strategy Lasts for Years.

I get it: You’re in a hurry. There’s a deadline, perhaps a category review with your dominant retail partner. Or maybe someone new in your organization wants to put their stamp on the product. So you want a new packaging design for your food and beverage product, and you want it now.

A new package or identity is exhilarating. It can make a splash in the market. But it’s oh so temporary. If your creative isn’t doing the heavy lifting of translating your brand strategy, you aren’t winning.

The secret to great packaging and identity is strategy, not beautiful design. Strategy and creative execution are inextricably linked.

Great creative without great strategy is wallpaper that will be wildly outdated in 18 months. Great strategy without great creative is a binder that sits on your conference room shelf.

Skip the strategy part and go straight to playing with typography and color, and someone else in your category will make the same moves within about six months. So you’ll have to redesign all over again.

Unless you do the strategy work first.

Why Brand Strategy Should Lead Brand Creative

Brand Strategy as a Foundation for Creative

In the world of consumer goods, great design is table stakes. But what makes creative last is a strategy that looks beyond your management team’s understanding of the universe. A brilliant brand strategy allows you to ignore what your competitors are doing (moves that often inspire a we-gotta-do-this-NOW approach to redesign) and build a deep and powerful relationship between your brand and your audience.

Strategy, of course, isn’t just a marketing activity. All roads lead back to your WHY: your brand’s unique point of view and the promises you make. It’s a risk-management and resource-management philosophy. Strategy drives every decision your organization makes: the products you launch, the channels you sell through, the audience you attract, the opportunities you don’t pursue. And yes, the way you package and present your products.

The output of strategy isn’t killer creative. Rather, it’s a defined framework for making decisions, including creative. Brand strategy is creative’s superhero suit—it repels competitors, fends off trends, flashes a signal that summons fans. It allows you to make the right moves that will disrupt your category and remain a force for 5 years or more.

This is the reason we audit a client’s brand positioning against the category and all adjacencies — before we start any design work.

Sometimes, this takes a bit of convincing. Prospective clients who come to our firm for a packaging design makeover may want to skip the strategy — perhaps because they don’t understand its importance and value, or they have limited time or money (or think they do). We explain that taking 8 to 10 weeks to do it right means they won’t have to redo the design in 12 months.

So if you think you need packaging, how do you know you need strategy?

· If something is broken but you don’t quite know what it is

· If you sense that your brand’s relevance is eroding and your sales are trailing off (this is not something packaging alone can fix)

· If you’re pretty confident that you know your audience well (you may know your current people, but who are you not selling to that wants your product?)

· If your sales trajectory is inconsistent with your competitors’ and you aren’t sure why

· If redesigning is just a thing you do every X years

Design Follows, It Doesn’t Lead

Some marketers believe that doing the design work will answer the bigger questions, that they’ll turn up the strategic stuff as they go through the design process. But letting design lead the initiative is a lousy move because the brand team will get emotionally invested in visuals before they get invested in the strategy.

The discipline of package design will never illuminate a new audience or new product or channel strategy or pricing structure; those are all things that only brand strategy can do.

Repeat after me: Creative is always the output of strategy. They’re always done sequentially, not in tandem.

Which isn’t to say that your design team shouldn’t be involved in the strategic work. Inviting senior creative people to the table is a real time-saver. (And if you’re up against a deadline, a pretty great reason to make time for strategy.) When you bring senior creative people in to ride shotgun on strategy, they can get to the solve in just a round or two of ideation. It brings alignment and prevents burnout … “We’re on Round 37!” You’ve created a North Star that provides guardrails for design exploration, focuses feedback, and drives decision-making.

Early in my career, I was guilty of making really beautiful stuff that was so transformative that it pointed my clients’ business in a new direction … and then I came to understand that beautiful stuff doesn’t really cash the check. So our team’s work always starts with our competitive audit – a benchmarking exercise that informs brand strategy and identifies opportunity. Armed with that insight, leaders can make really bold moves that only your brand can make. Including packaging design that doesn’t copy what’s already on the shelf — but transforms the shelf.Ready for a smarter approach to your brand’s creative expression? Let’s have a conversation.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David
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Becoming a Green Company: 4 Examples to Guide the Way

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been publishing a series of articles about sustainability for food and beverage brands … moving from relatively low-stakes/low-impact (packaging) to mid-stakes/mid-impact (brand mission) and now to high-stakes/high-impact (corporate environmental responsibility). Product to brand to company.

4 Sustainable Brands to Inspire Your Company to Become Green

This is part of a series of articles we’ve published on sustainability for food and beverage brands.

The Road to Sustainable Packaging is Long. Start with These 5 Steps.

How Sustainable is Your Food or Beverage Brand, Really?

If you’re just starting as an organization down the path to environmental sustainability, it may seem impossible to consider making every. single. aspect. of your business operate with environmental consequences in mind.

But it is possible. And, I’d argue, imperative.

Taking a corporate-level environmental stance means it’s not just your packaging that is quote-unquote recyclable. It’s not just your brand on the mission. It’s every business unit, every employee, every decision. Until a sustainability mindset is part of your organizational DNA. In fact, it may not even be something you actively market to consumers. It just is.

(If you need to better understand the magnitude and breadth of the materials economy, I recommend watching the short documentary “The Story of Stuff” and the other resources from the Story of Stuff Project.)

What does this kind of commitment look like? Patagonia, the outdoor outfitter that’s “in business to save our home planet” is a common avatar for corporate environmental stewardship. But there are other companies in other categories — outside food and beverage — that CPG brands can look to for inspiration. Here are 4 mini case studies — including one “what not to do” example from our own food & beverage industry.


When you’ve finished reading this, go watch the TED Talk by Interface-FLOR founder/CEO Ray Anderson. Behind the genteel Southern drawl is a steely commitment to zero waste. An industrial designer by training, Anderson founded a company to manufacture commercial carpet tiles in the 1970s. Then, in the 1990s, he happened upon Paul Hawken’s book “The Ecology of Commerce,” which opened his eyes to the role that business and industry play in wrecking the environment — and the role they must play in healing it.

Anderson recognized the false choice between environment and economics. Then he asked, “Why not us?”

He set out to transform a petroleum-intensive company to take as little from the earth as possible and only what the planet could regenerate—not a single drop of fresh oil—and do no harm to the biosphere.

The “take-make-waste” industrial ecosystem is extractive and linear; Anderson aimed for renewable and circular. From manufacturing and sourcing overhauls to creating a reverse logistics system through which customers could return used carpet tiles for recycling, Interface-FLOR proved the business case for environmental stewardship. Twelve years into the initiative, in 2009, Anderson reported that costs were down, sales were up by two-thirds, profitability had doubled, and cost savings had paid for all the expenses of the transformation. FLOR’s products were better than ever, thanks to a culture of innovation. Employees were galvanized around the shared purpose. And, he noted, no marketing campaign at any price could have yielded the marketplace goodwill that the company’s mission had generated.

Visit the website for FLOR (the company’s consumer division) and you’ll see high-style carpeting made for modern homes. FLOR leads with design; its minimal carbon footprint is a secondary selling point.

2) Alcoa

When Paul O’Neill took over the aluminum manufacturer in 1987, the company was tanking. It had a poor reputation for product quality, underpinned by a litany of serious employee safety problems. O’Neill spent time investigating how the company operated and asked loads of questions. Rather than focusing on products or customers, his turnaround plan focused on safety. The board of directors, shareholders, and fellow C-suiters questioned how safety would translate to sales and improved margin.

O’Neill remained committed. Across the company, new safety policies were put in place. The culture shifted as employees realized that the CEO was invested in them. They started caring about their work and their fellow employees. Productivity went up. When there was an error, O’Neill accepted personal responsibility, took action, and set an example.

By the end of his tenure in 1999, just under a decade later, Alcoa’s market value had increased from $3 billion to more than $27 billion. O’Neill found a value that the greater company could get behind, and he never wavered. Business case studies call this a “keystone habit.”

While Alcoa’s mission was safety-minded rather than planet-centered, the keystone habit offers a powerful model. Find a value that’s tangible and ownable — the more specific you can be, the better. Put your neck on the block, do what you say you’re going to do, and stay the course even when it’s difficult or costly.

3) Alden’s Organic Ice Cream

Alden’s was a client of ours; they came to us as a regional operation in the Northwest with a dream of expanding. Ice cream — organic at that — what’s not to love? But the company struggled with low brand recognition.

Their brand position was earnest and earthy, overly serious in the way that some better-for-you brands can be. Unfortunately, they didn’t explain the value of organic ingredients in a treat like ice cream.

As we dug into the 360° Brand Development process, we discovered a single value woven into the business that virtually nobody inside or outside the company knew about.

Alden’s sources organic milk from a co-op of 40 family farmers. And so, we found the “keystone habit” — to protect the integrity and financial sustainability of those family farmers. Only the people in procurement really knew about this commitment and what it meant to the farmers.

We created a new mission for the company: “supporting family farms.” We broke down internal silos and made sure that everyone in the company, from the workers on the production line to the financial analysts to the marketers, knew about the mission. It wasn’t just about selling ice cream. It was about honoring and preserving the livelihoods of farmers who followed sustainable, organic practices. That became the company’s flag in the ground.

As with FLOR, the corporate commitment to sustaining farmers paid off: In just 24 months, this small NW regional brand became America’s best-selling organic ice cream.

4) Oatly

Here’s our “what not to do” example. Companies that adopt strong pro-environment positions don’t have to tout their green chops in marketing campaigns. FLOR doesn’t lead with it. But woe be to the company that does make sustainability a marketing platform … and then fails to back it up in business practices.

Oatly has lately landed in hot water, with environmental activists calling for a boycott of the company’s oat beverage products. The Swedish company is built on the promise of radically changing the food system in order to tackle humankind’s greatest challenge: climate change. Oatly’s marketing and product platforms are anchored in making it cool to be vegan — they sell upcycled clothing with the brand logo, and adopt a slang-y millennial brand voice and illustration style.

The company’s financing, though, raises eyebrows. In 2020, it sold a 10 percent stake to Blackstone, a private equity group that has come under fire previously for allegations that it’s involved in businesses that contribute to the deforestation of the Amazon. It’s a complex issue (a big chunk of that same financing deal came from “green” bank loans that come with sustainability requirements). Oatly issued a “yeah, but” statement that said, basically, “Yeah we accepted this potentially questionable financing, but at least the money is going to green projects instead of to fossil fuels or something else that’s bad for the planet.”

A company leader was quoted as saying: “We know some people may see this as unexpected, but it was very purposeful. We’re at a stage where we need to scale up. Scale requires investment and big investment. If we’re able to change mainstream capital into greener projects, we will start to see a new level of change.”

The lesson here is that companies need to be steadfast in their commitment to sustainability, always and in every way, not just when it’s convenient.

It Must Be Possible

Your company has a large environmental footprint beyond product packaging. To become a truly green company, it should be ready to review every part of the business. This is not a brand exercise. It’s not a marketing initiative.

When decision making is siloed throughout an organization, all those decisions will focus on the performance of the individual business unit. Manufacturing for speed and efficiency may save costs, but it increases waste. Sourcing cheap paperboard may save budgets, but it increases forest usage. True sustainability requires system thinking.

Those costs eventually get passed along. To the consumer, in higher prices. Or to the environment, in terms of climate change and biosphere degradation. Which do we prioritize?

As Anderson notes in his TED Talk, if something exists, it must be possible. And if it’s possible for one company, than it must be possible for every company.
Where are you on the path to sustainability? Whether you’re looking at packaging, reframing your brand mission, or evaluating every aspect of your corporate operation, we can help you take the right next steps. Let’s start a conversation.

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

Connect with Diana
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How Sustainable is Your Food or Beverage Brand, Really?

An article we published recently noted that food and beverage brands often tout their sustainability and package their products in “recyclable” materials. In the real world, though, most food and beverage packaging is not actually recyclable in any practical sense. And even if it were, we’ve put the burden of dealing with all of this plastic and paperboard and film on the consumer.

We’ve made it so easy for people to buy our products. Shouldn’t we also make it easy for them to dispose of the stuff our products are wrapped or boxed or bottled in?

That article shared five practical steps brand leaders can take to reduce their environmental footprint, focusing on their packaging.

But of course, there’s much more to sustainability than packaging.

So how can brands create an authentic sustainability platform without greenwashing or faking it? How can they make meaningful, systemic changes, and how do they present that position to their audience?

Consumers Demand Sustainability

First, understand that consumers are driving corporate interest in sustainable practices. Take a look at the trends:

More than 9 million people globally belong to the Freecycle Network, which aims to trade and reuse goods instead of purchasing.

Peer-to-peer marketplaces like eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace allow consumers to buy and sell used items directly from one another.

Sites like Poshmark, Thred Up, and Rent the Runway allow fashionistas to buy or rent pre-worn clothing, some of it from high-end labels.

As a marketer, you also know that consumers are incredibly fickle. And sometimes irrational. They love the idea of buying less and reusing more, but they’re still buying a ton of stuff. They expect environmental responsibility even as they buy single-serve products with excessive packaging just because they’re more convenient. They want brands to be do-gooders, but they balk at paying a premium for that position.

So what is a mission-driven, better-for-you food or beverage brand to do?

4 Steps to Becoming a Sustainable Food & Beverage Brand

Do It Because It’s Right

We advise our food and beverage clients to move in a sustainable direction not because it’s trendy or because it builds their cred on social media — but because it’s the right thing to do. Every brand is different, and that means they have different needs and bring different strengths to a sustainability story.

For every “environmental hero” brand — Patagonia, Lush Cosmetics, and Seventh Generation are brands anchored in environmental activism — there are thousands more that are starting to work sustainability into their platform. This shift in focus risks greenwashing, and unless you do it in a way that’s authentic and logical for your brand, consumers will sniff that out in a hot minute.

4 Steps to Becoming a Sustainable Brand

So how can brands add an environmental position in a legit way?

1) Understand where you are today. Establish an internal working group tasked with defining your brand’s environmental footprint across business units: ingredient sourcing, production, packaging, distribution, retail, end-of-life, all of it. Examine not just environmental issues but also human ones: wages, safety, etc. Then begin to tackle reducing waste and improving practices wherever you can.

2) Anchor environmental commitment in your capital-B Brand. We define Brand as the promises you make and the way you keep them. Your organization must decide on your brand promise and the role that sustainability plays in it. Some brands lead with sustainability and don’t have other values; others focus on other issues like equality or health and then figure out how to bolt sustainability onto that.

To make your environmental position externally legitimate and internally “sticky” it must flow logically from your brand promise. It doesn’t have to be your only mission, but it shouldn’t be one of many missions. Don’t try to be a better-for-you, organic, shade-grown, equality-minded, sugar-free, donate-a-product-for-every-one-purchased, environmental warrior brand; consumers will struggle to understand an overly complex brand position.

We call this concept being a “citizen brand” — if your brand exists as a citizen of the world, then it has to behave admirably in all respects. Your environmentalism doesn’t have to be the lead horse, but it’s part of your value system to do the right thing.

3) Infuse sustainability throughout your operations. When this effort is part of the brand’s core belief system, it informs every aspect of your business. And you recruit, train, promote, and fire employees based on those values. That’s how you make sustainability matter deeply to the entire organization.

Not every brand has the discipline to do what Patagonia did – to review every single business activity in every single unit so that every product has a minimal impact on the environment. But if your brand is committed to sustainability, you should behave accordingly in all aspects of the business, not just when consumers are watching.

One way to do this is to apply for B Corp status. Overseen by the nonprofit B Lab, the B Corp movement aims to change the global economic system to the benefit of people and planet. (We’ve gone through this process ourselves to achieve B Corp certification.) The standards are rigorous, and there are free tools companies can use to assess their impact. This alone is a helpful exercise.

4) Craft your sustainability story internally and externally. When a plan to reduce your environmental footprint is baked into your mission, it should become easy to authentically communicate that to your employees and fans.

Begin with internal messaging: encourage people to measure twice and cut once, to think before they act, to choose suppliers carefully, to decide whether we need an office copier. Training and nurturing the value across the organization will ground every decision in your brand values. That will still have a huge impact even if you can’t radically change your packaging tomorrow.

Then you start the dialog with consumers so they know you have a position, you recognize it’s a challenge, and you’re taking steps to make it better.

At the end of the day, brands have to become more sustainability-minded. Humanity is up against looming deadlines in terms of climate change and natural resource depletion. We can’t afford to delay.

Ready to start on the sustainability path, or move farther along? We’re here to help.

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

Connect with Diana